Erin Pickett at Año Nuevo State Reserve, CA--The E Seal Team found themselves hard at work on the beach on Saturday, deploying not only the first, but the second set of satellite tags of the '09 breeding season! The first two lucky female Elephant Seals (along with the next twenty) were chosen specifically for tagging.
Thanks to thirty or so years of thorough observation and data collection at Año Nuevo State Reserve, it was fairly easy to choose these seals. The E Seal team made sure the seals were frequent visitors to Año and that their age was known in the E Seal database. After these requirements were met, the seals became the "ones to watch" on re-sight days until they became noticeably skinnier and their pups fatter. Lucky seal number two, WT073, and her pup are seen below demonstrating this.
A skinny seal like this indicates an upcoming departure from the beach, the big fat pup is also a pretty good clue! Photo: Erin Pickett
Deployments are carefully scheduled around mom-pup readiness, making sure the pup is almost weaned and the mom is close to departure. Satellite tags have a better chance at surviving once they've left the beach so, the sooner they hit the water, the better!
Besides choosing the seals, deployment procedures are much like the recovery procedures we've been hearing so much about. The female is given an anesthetic before a series of measurements including lengths, girths, mass, and ultrasound readings are taken. Fur and whisker samples are also collected to examine diet. While all of this is being done, the seals are prepped for tags and epoxy (special glue used to keep the tags on) is mixed.
Cory Champagne and Mallory Pickett take girth measurements. Photo: Erin Pickett
These seals were fitted with two tags: the first on the top of her head and the second centered in the middle of her back. The head tag is used to track her position while she's at sea. These two tags are particularly fancy, and also record her diving habits (time, depth, and temperature). Lastly, a VHF radio tag will make it easy for us to find her when she's back on the beach to molt this spring.
WT073 with her new tag (above). Photo: Erin Pickett
The pup waits patiently while his mom gets all the attention. Photo: Erin Pickett
Saturday's procedures both went very smoothly (apart from the occasional look of shock when the pup woke up from their naps...) and the team made it off the beach before the rain. Lets hope the next 20 procedures work out just as well! These twenty-two seals may very well follow the current wave of featured elephant seals through seal stardom brought to you by Elephant Seal Homecoming Days, so stay tuned!